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The Sursock Art Museum

The Sursock Museum was built in 1920 by Nicolas Sursock as a private residence. Before his death he made an agreement with the Beirut City Council for it to be turned into a museum. At the time the President of the Council was a Greek Orthodox. Subsequently the Council appointed somebody for the upkeep and management of the Sursock Museum with the title of Mutawalli, meaning in Arabic a person in charge, or warden. The warden of the museum was a Sunni Muslim, but this had nothing to do with the initial mistake of Nicolas Sursock, which was to undertake the transformation of his house into a museum without informing himself about the proper procedure as followed for donations to a museum in Europe and more particularly in America. There are for example in America a number of small museums with a charter and an administration that are thoroughly effective and that have a strictly regulated division of activities and financing. In this way financial contributions for the administration of the museums and for the purchase of exhibits do not become involved in dubious transactions. Following the death of Nicolas Sursock, his house became not a museum but a place for the reception of distinguished visitors. It was only in 1962 or 1963 that thanks to the efforts and insistence of Ibrahim Sursock the house returned to its vocation as a museum, henceforth under the direction of a committee presided by Yvonne Sursock Cochrane.

At this time the warden of the museum was Ameen Beyhum, who had a law passed according to which 10% of the revenues coming from building permits issued for Beirut was given to the museum.

However, this was of little help to the museum, since the sums so obtained were put in the private account of Ameen Beyhum. So there followed a very sharp disagreement between the warden and Yvonne Sursock Cochrane, the latter insisting that such sums should be entrusted to a special committee responsible for the finances of the museum. However, Lady Cochrane lost her case and had to give up her position as head of the committee following a quarrel in which Charles Helou was involved, at that time still President of the Republic.

The unfortunate outcome of the debate was that the Sursock Museum was unable to obtain the funds needed for the purchase of the exhibits which would make the Sursock residence into a museum properly so-called. For this reason it remains only showrooms for exhibitions. However, it is only right to point out that there are in the coffers of the Beirut Municipality some fifty million dollars that normally should form the capital of this unfortunate little museum

(Translation from the French: K.J. Mortimer)

- The Sursock Art Museum: >> View Movie << (2008-06-01)



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